The Yankees went to Boston for a three-game series last week and, long before the first pitch, there was standing room only at Fenway Park. The magic that drew overflow crowds (101,858 in three days or 99% of capacity) was a 38-year-old gaffer named Ted Williams and young Mickey Mantle, 13 years his junior. Williams had stirred Boston fans out of their annual baseball blues by disregarding his age and the midsummer heat. In the five-week period since the All-Star Game, Mantle had batted an impressive .400 to raise his then league-leading .369 ten points higher. But Williams hit an incredible .500, catapulting his average 44 points to a breathtaking .387.
The first game was all Mantle's, despite a round of boos every time he came to the plate. He singled twice, walked and hit a home run to knock in all of the Yankee runs. Williams could only get an inconsequential single and two walks.
When Mantle hit his game-winning home run, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Correspondent John Hanlon noted: " Williams stood with his arms folded across his chest and seemingly glowered as Mantle made his tour. I thought that when Mantle turned at second base, he looked at Williams, as if to say, 'How about that.' Ted just continued to glower."
The next afternoon even more people tried to get into the park—36,207 for a season high in Boston. To add to the confusion, 20,000 Rhode Islanders, celebrating Rhode Island Day, joined the crush. A monumental traffic jam along the way stretched an hour's drive into three, and Plate Umpire Hank Soar, coming up from Providence, just did make the game in time by pleading with traffic policemen to let him through.
For the Williams fans—i.e., just about everybody—it was worth the struggle. Ted hit a towering home run over the left field wall with two men on. As Williams circled the bases, the crowd stood on its feet and gave him one of the biggest ovations ever heard in Fenway Park. As usual, he did not acknowledge it. Later, he added a single and a walk to help the Red Sox to a 6-4 victory. Mantle was held to one hit in four at-bats.
The last game was anticlimactic, as Williams continued to add to his batting lead with a double and single in three at-bats. Mantle went 0 for 2. At series' end, Williams' .393 led Mantle by 13 points.
Williams' finest tribute came from Mantle himself: "He's the greatest hitter that ever lived."